A business executive wanted to encourage his staff to take more risks; to understand that life at its best or fullest, means not shutting down, or playing to “I can’t, what will they say?” At a staff meeting he passed out little pieces of paper, each stamped “Forgiveness Coupon.” Each employee received two coupons.
He told the gathered group, “We keep telling you to take risks. But if you are really going to risk or try or dream or love or bring your heart or care, you are going to make mistakes. These coupons give you permission to make a mistake, free and clear, without fear of retribution, blaming or scapegoating.” The staff listened flabbergasted.
The manager added, “And each of you is expected to use both coupons by the end of the year.”
An hour later, a staff member handed a coupon to the executive, “I would like to use my first one.”
“What on earth did you do?”
“Five minutes ago, I Xeroxed ten more copies.”
Okay, I’m with that guy.
Two coupons a year are not nearly enough.
I needed that many this week.
Life unravels… Mistake. Blunder. Transgression. Screw-up. Call it what you want. (I’m smiling because there is no doubt, we will even swear it was not our fault. Like Adam and Eve said a long time ago, “The snake made us do it.”)
But we—every single one of us—trip up, and make bad choices. (And I think it’s easier to make bad choices when life feels catawampus—as it does for so many now.)
And then there is a tear (as if something inside ruptures). The result? Hard feelings, misunderstanding, miscommunication, hurt. And we curse our frailty, our vulnerability, our humanity.
“How did I get here?” we ask. “I did not sign up for this.” And we let the weight win. Life’s frailty fueled by anxiety.
We call it failure. And this is important; When we assign our wellbeing, our value, to that tear, the narrative of scarcity (and not sufficiency) wins.
My confession: if I can’t fix it, I want to gloss it over. So. Maybe I don’t want redemption. Maybe I want perfection (or at least tidiness).
I was inculcated early in a religious faith predicated on perfection, or the promise of paradise (life nice and tidy). Actually, the ultimate goal was “getting out of Dodge.” The “coupon” I wanted was my ticket to heaven, away from the complications and struggles of this life.
(I still feel the tug of that oppressive theology, reminding me that one, “you are nothing, a worm, and therefore not to be trusted.” And two, “this world is meaningless. So, delight and wonder and presence take a back seat to ‘making the grade,’ ‘looking good,’ and ‘keeping your nose clean.’ Or as one friend told me, “My parent’s most used line, ‘Don’t ever embarrass us or God.'”)
Some of us have felt that way. Like there is no reason to go on, or no good reason to bring our whole heart to this day. It is made all the more thorny if we see our imperfection as an enemy (predicament or obstacle) to be overcome. We see only scarcity.
And we do not see…
We do not see the sufficiency of Grace.
We do not see the sufficiency of Love.
We see only our shortcomings.
We see only the bushel, and not the light hidden inside.
Scarcity means living fueled by fear. Or regret.
Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams, served as a Massachusetts state senator and ambassador to Great Britain under Abraham Lincoln. Very conscientious about keeping a daily journal, he encouraged his children to do the same. While no encyclopedia makes mention of Charles’ family, his diary does. One entry reads: “Went fishing with my son today–a day wasted.”
Another diary, that of his son Brook Adams, gives us a different perspective: “Went fishing with my father today. The most wonderful day of my life.”
What do you do with the fact, when, in hindsight, you realize that your Father wasn’t really there? And what does that fuel?
I can tell you that my first reading of the story only served to fuel my own regret, and lost opportunities. But playing “if only” is a no-win scenario, and there’s nothing to be gained. To be honest, I’ve played both roles in the story. So, who gets the coupon? Maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe, both do.
I love the invitation here. It’s one that Thich Nhat Hanh shared with us, throughout his 95 years, urging the embrace of mindfulness, which he has described as “the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment.”
Let’s call it the “awake to the present moment coupon”. Even and especially in the times our lives feel unraveled.
In his book “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life,” he wrote, “If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” (Yes, even in the blundered moment.)
Life is difficult. I get that part. But in our lottery culture, we want the coupon that guarantees a life of smooth sailing. So focused, we miss the coupon of being awake to the present moment, which is, the coupon of Grace. The sufficiency of Grace.
That inside this conflicted, brilliant, complicated, deeply flawed self is a light–capable of love, graciousness, mercy, generosity, humanity, restitution, rebirth–capable of the very reflection and image of God.
Here’s the deal: All of us are fighting this battle, and for that reason, we need the coupon to be gentle with ourselves and tender with one another.
This week we’ll be handing out coupons… kindness and gentleness and laughter and grace. If you need a coupon this week, I hope you use one. There’s more where that came from.
And if you know someone who needs a coupon, I hope you give one away.
If you don’t have a coupon, use this Sabbath Moment as the permission to sit still, and let go of the stuff that keeps you stuck.
Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh, we are so very grateful for the light you have spilled in our world.
It’s not yet February, and I’ve seen daffodil shoots peering out from the ground (here in the PNW), looking for the sun. Let’s call them the “coupon of hope”. That does my heart good.
Quote for your week…
I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. Wendell Berry
Note: The Forgiveness Coupon story adapted from The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
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–Dear Terry, I can relate to today’s Sabbath Moment. Gardening is one of my passions. I spent 13 ½ years in Grace Garden. My friend and I decided to use 5/8 acre at the back of my church to build a garden to help feed the hungry. We built up the soil, put in irrigation lines and harvested a bountiful amount of vegetables and fruits. It filled our hearts as we filled many hungry people. It was, and still is, such a blessing. The new leaders will continue on with this goal. Gardening is a sanctuary. Blessings, Cid Barcellos
–I loved today’s SM Daily. It reminded me of a recent thread in a local page on Facebook: “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, which in itself is a wonderful example of our community. A woman inquired if anyone wanted their lawns raked. She offered to do it for free if first her autistic four-year-old son could come jump in the leaves, his favorite activity. Two miracles happened: One, people offered their leaf-strewn lawns and said they didn’t need to be raked afterward; two, others, often adults, asked if they could join the boy jumping in the leaves. The request turned into a wonderful example of Community. Pocatello, Idaho
–Terry, Good morning. Indeed it is! I just finished “This is the Life.” I could not put it down until finished and now wished it would continue on and on. Your vulnerability to share so much of yourself and such all inclusive illustrations are so inspirational. I thank you for you wisdom. Hold on! I believe I feel like dancing! Gotta go! Thank you! Pat
POEMS AND PRAYERS
One new perception,
one fresh thought,
one act of surrender,
one change of heart,
one leap of faith,
can change your life forever.
The Good News
“The good news
they do not print.
The good news
we do print.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
that the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen. You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow,
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
(Call Me by My True Names)
We pray for another way of being: another way of knowing.
Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath: lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creature and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.
God lead us to the slow path: to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.